• Published 27th Mar 2019
  • 1,327 Views, 195 Comments

Five Score – A Prench Tale Vol.1 - Alsey



Getting a cutie mark for my birthday was already strange enough, but what will I do now that my body has suddenly decided to take a Prench leave..?

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5 – Fractious Impulses

Laurence's View

“Please, can we stop..? This is giving me a headache...”

“Once more please. This time try five keys at once.”

Ambre groans but gets to work. Her horn lights up, the concentration plain in her scrunched-up features, and soon a first button is highlighted on the keyboard. The second and third are quick to follow, but the fourth takes its time, and the fifth proves difficult: the red mist that I've still a hard time calling 'magic' flickers on the key's surface without managing to wrap itself fully around it.

“You can do it Amber, just a little more!”

“I– *huff* yes Sarge..!”

The red glow grows steadier and encompasses more and more of that troublesome fifth key, until all five are uniformly held in Ambre's mysterious grasp.

“Perfect. Now, like last time: three full cycles, in alphabetic order.”

The mist grows brighter around the first key and, like an incorporeal finger, presses it down. I confirm that the letter has been correctly inputted on the test text file, then wait for the next. It's slow work, considering the amount of focus the task seems to require, but Ambre soldiers on through the first two cycles.

However, as we reach the second key of the third cycle, I notice that her horn light is dimming, and that she appears to be in pain. Her grip flickers more and more, but she's almost there! Come on filly, you can do it!

Someone unlocks and opens the front door just at this moment though, and Ambre's concentration finally breaks, at only two keys from our goal!

The young unicorn all but crumbles on her seat, panting: “Sorry, I... I failed...”

I pat her on the shoulder. “It's not your fault, you were doing great! I'd still count that as a success in any case. You should rest for now.”

“Hey, what's up with her?”, comes Séb's worried voice from behind me. That must've been him at the door, back from work – I didn't notice it's this late already!

“She's tired, from too much magic study.”, I answer, looking at him. “Could you come with me to the kitchen? I'm sure she would appreciate some water.”

“Uh, sure..?”

I put my own efforts of the day to use and start walking toward the kitchen. I'm still far from comfortable with this thing, either functionally or intellectually, but at least I claimed back some liberty of movement. Séb still needs to lend me a hand at staying upright a couple times on the way, though...

Once in the kitchen, filled with new plastic bags of groceries, Séb pushes the door closed: “Well, uh, I must admit I kinda expected you to still be on the couch, or maybe on your bed...”

I can't help but chuckle at that: “This is pretty much what I imagined too, to be honest. I'm trying to tackle things a bit more pragmatically. How was work for you?”

“Not as crazy as usual, without you two, but I'd like some clarifications here; you said 'magic study'..?”

“Oh yes, you won't believe it until you've seen it! That horn jutting from her skull? It really works!”

“Yeah, though I guess that was... kind of expected, no..?”

“Oh come on, was I the only one who wasn't taking that silly cartoon at face value!?”

His silence is answer enough...

“Anyway, we spent the whole afternoon practicing and studying to see how it functions! As of now, her telekinesis can support five to six standard 400-grams tin cans at once, even if this drops to only three if she has to hold them individually, though right now we tested that she can maintain at least four to five different objects in her field at the same time and act on each of them separately, so there is clearly an effect of either the surface or the mass of objects in her ability to levitate them in addition to how many she can exerts control over simultaneously, though besides that she still seems somewhat constrained by line of sight, but orbital trajectories are quite promising!”

“Hey, slow down!”, he laughs. “It's nice to see you so excited!”

“How could I not be!? This would mean that this strange force, 'magic' if you want to call it that way, is quite likely linked to what is happening to us, and the more Amber and I learn about it, the quicker we can devise a way to change back! There's already results confirming that her aura or mist or whatever can provide some amount of feedback on shape and texture, so if we push this aspect to generate, I don't know, some kind of scanner maybe, we...”

He doesn't look happy. Why doesn't he look happy? It's the best news I got since this whole mess started!

“... Why are you looking at me like this?”

“Uh nothing, really, it's just that...”, he stammers, avoiding my eyes. “Well, Ambre must be thirsty, you know? I should bring her that glass of water; you, uh, wait for me here?”

“Okay..?”

Séb beats a hasty retreat, glass in hand. What's this about!? Why is there always something going wrong when I start feeling better!? What does he see that I don't!? Am I missing something essential!? Of course I can't have figured out all the details yet, this could be a whole new branch of physics and/or biology!

And now I'm clawing against the floor, like... Uh, actually, come to think of it, clawing when feeling stressed out is more or less usual for me..?

Séb comes back at last, looking somewhat perplexed: “Say, why is Sarah watching MLP with the TV on mute..?”

“Oh, that?”, I snort. “That's the best compromise we could come to. She could keep watching her stupid show, as long as it's on mute with subtitles so we could concentrate on our study in peace.” That also had the added benefit of not having to listen to it anymore, period.

“She's gonna miss all the good songs like this! Can't she, I don't know, find something else to do instead?”

“I wish..! If she's not fully absorbed by her cartoon, she just can't stay still – it's even worse than the worst children I've ever known! Keeping her in front of the television is the lesser of two evils, trust me...” But that's straying from the subject I'm really interested in here, so I put my stern face on: “Now, what did you want to say?”

“What? Oh, uh, nothing, really!”

Thought I would forget so soon? I'm not a goldfish, dammit! “Not so fast, Séb! I recognize that look! It's the 'I don't think this is a good idea Laurence' look, so out with it!”

He's clearly reluctant to talk, but I won't leave this stone unturned!

“Well, you know...”, he begins, scratching the back of his head, “if we use the MLP canon as basis, unicorn magic goes far beyond simple levitation: there are spells, some very complex to perform even for the most skilled unicorns, and... I mean, what you described, with Ambre? Almost any adult unicorn could do the same. But... A transformation, like yours? There's, like... One, maybe two unicorns shown to be able to do this kind of spell, not counting Princesses. In one episode, they even implied that a gender-bender transformation was basically unheard of..?”

“... So... If I'm following you... Amber could train all she wants, if she's not one of those mighty special unicorns, she could never hope to change us back..?”

“Maybe she could, if she had the spell, and knew how to cast it, and had enough raw power to do so, uh... Maybe..?”

Then... We're still... No! No, I refuse!! There must be some kind of loophole! Ah! “And if she could improve her simple detection skills, would it be possible for her to, I don't know, isolate some kind of residual traces from the spell that did this to us? That could still help tremendously!”

“I... I honestly don't know... Maybe?”

He looks pained to be unable to reassure me, and... I admit it's tempting to just lash out in frustration right now, but... It's not his fault. He's already doing his best...

“Hey, it's gonna be alright...”, he whispers as he gets down on his knees and pull me into a tight hug. “We'll find a way, I promise...”

I hug him in return, trying to hold back my tears in the face of this latest setback, and failing miserably...

I'm so lucky to have you, Sébastien..!

Without you, I don't know if... if I...

Our moment is interrupted by the sound of hooves closing in on us, and soon I can see the tip of Ambre's muzzle peeking from behind the half-closed door: “Er, is this a bad time..?”, she asks meekly.

“You can come in, Ambre”, I answer while retreating from Séb's embrace. The unicorn pushes the door open with her head, one of her forelegs cradling the empty glass against her chest. Tsss, I can barely walk with four, yet here she gets around on just three!

She seems to notice my state immediately: “Are... are you all right?”

“Been better.”, I almost snap. God I need to get a firmer hold on my temper... I force a neutral expression on my face: “What about your headache?”

“Oh, er, still here, but it'll get better so long as I don't try more magic, thanks. I was just wondering if... Well, when would you like to have dinner?”

Mmh, it stands to reason that exerting magical energy would burn calories... I need to take care of the only magic user I have on hand, even if she doesn't prove as useful as I hoped. “Dinner sounds all right to me.”

“Yeah, same.”, opines Séb. “How can I help?”

“Oh, but you worked all day, and even went out for more food! You should rest for a bit, we'll take care of it!”, Ambre declares with a smile.

Hey! How– what right do you have to tell him what to do!? He's my friend!! He's been away all day!

But... I must admit... He does look tired.

...

As his friend, I should prioritize his well-being over my petty needs.

“Eh, I appreciate the sentiment Ambre, but—”

“She's right, Séb.” I interrupt, reluctantly. “The three of us can deal with most of it. Just kick Sarah from the couch and take some time to unwind. We'll call you for taking out the tableware.”

“Well, okay...”, he replies with some hesitation, looking at me strangely. “But tell me if you need anything, all right?”

“Promise!”, chirps a grinning Ambre.

Séb lingers an instant longer before leaving the kitchen.

...

It was the pragmatic thing to do, right..? Why is this even affecting me that much?

“Laurence?”, asks my unicorn companion with a curious tone.

Damn, guess my face still shows too much, too easily...

“You had a good idea,” I tell her with what should be a believable smile, “even if I would still have appreciated a helping hand – quite literally, as it is.”

That's as good an explanation as any...

“Oh I'm sure I can still pull on the magical juices a little bit, if we need it!”

I'm tempted to agree, to use this as an opportunity for us to gather more data... But I guess that would be highly hypocritical of me now, huh..?

“No, except for emergencies, just use your hooves please. I'm not going to ask a friend who's tired to exhaust herself even more than necessary when I just sent another friend to rest because he was tired. I already asked a lot of you this afternoon so I would order you to the couch too, if you weren't light enough to stand on the stepstool, and dexterous enough to be of help once standing on it!”

She tilts her head on the side, and smile: “Thank you.”, she simply says.

I return her smile, without having to think about it.

Soon enough I can hear the television's sound turning on with some random early evening program, and Sarah joins us: “I heard there was cooking ahoof?”, she asks without much enthusiasm.

“Yes, so get to your station if you want to eat before midnight!”, I reply, pointing to the informally designated vegetable processing area.

“Okay, 'Sarge'...”, she mutters as she goes past Ambre to sit in front of the tray holding chopping board, peeler, and knifes.

“Are you're okay Sarah? You seem upset...”

“Oh just coming out of an episode with a character I really don't like, no big deal.” She shifts easily to a playful smile: “So what are we going for, girls?”

“We did something with rice for lunch, we could go with pasta?”, I propose.

“Mmh, pasta with sautéed veggies then? Nice, quick, and simple.”, adds Ambre.

“That's basically what we did for lunch though, just with a different starch source...”, grumbles Sarah, who clearly has a quota of contrarian viewpoints to fulfill each day.

I get to unload the latest groceries Séb got us. “This is communal cooking, it's more practical to go for staple foods – especially when one of us eats like a horse...”

“Well I can't really help it now, can I..?”, huffs the aforementioned equine.

“So... Vegetable-wise, in addition to the carrots, onions and lettuce already in the fridge, we now have avocados, radishes, eggplants, and potatoes.”

“Carrots, onions, and eggplants should get along well, right? Maybe potatoes too? What do you think Sarah?”

“I think that I forgot to ask Sébastien to get us some soy sauce and garlic, but otherwise that should do it, yeah.”

“Let's get to work then.”

Ambre moves the stepstool to the front of the sink, I pass her the vegetables to be washed, then Sarah loads them in the large frying pan, which she somehow manages to carry steadily with the handle in her mouth, and bring them to the processing station. As I give the large pot and the packet of fusilli to Ambre, I can't help but take a look at how Sarah is doing. Like earlier today, she has no apparent issue with using either the peeler or a knife, and gets things done even quicker than I can usually do with my hands.

I now suspect there is also some kind of subtle 'hoof magic' at work here. Ambre first got this to my attention when she noted that Sarah had no problem using the television's remote or the controller with her hooves, which at the time was quite unexpected. I tried to have her run some tests, but as if it were done just to irk me, any attempt to use this ability consciously proved ineffective, with the pathetic excuse of 'it only works as long as I don't think about it"...

“Excuse me Laurence, could you take care of this?”

I bring my attention back to Ambre, who is now holding the water-filled pot in her forelegs. “Oh yes, of course.” I pull myself upright against the kitchen counter to help transfer the pot to the cooktop, and I turn the hotplate on. Meanwhile Ambre has gotten down from the stepstool, so we can push it right in front of the cooktop for when we'll have to pour the pasta. Good thing I had the packet already opened, I wasn't eager to try to tear through it with my teeth...

“Er, Laurence..?”

“Yes?”

“I was just thinking, maybe we should put up a budget for, I don't know, a bench or something, to get more easily to the counter, and not have to always move the stool?”

Ambre's idea sounds logical at first glance, but... “We're not staying like this for a second longer than necessary. I see no reason to invest in furniture we won't need once we get our bodies back.”

Sarah snorts as if in amusement or some other unpleasant reason, so I grace her with a good stern face! This was a perfectly logical explanation, there's nothing to laugh at!

“Oh, okay... If you say so.”, Ambre mumbles, her ears folding back slightly.

Oh, ears down, that must mean she's disappointed! This isn't what I wanted! “I mean, it was a good idea on principle, really, just, uh...” What could I say that would put a not-too-negative spin on this..?

“Comin' through girls!”

I move away to leave enough space for Sarah to rear up and put the pan on the counter. Ambre then proceeds to pour some olive oil and put it over the second hotplate: “Well, that should be good, just need to let it cook for a bit now, and wait for the water to boil.”

“Well if my part's done I'm gonna go back to the telly.”, says the dumb green horse as she leaves the kitchen.

“You can go too Laurence, if you want; I should be able to handle it by myself.”

I don't notice any resentment in her words, but I still feel like I should do something nice for her: “You must still be tired Ambre, you can let me do this. I'm sure I can manage by myself.”

“Are you... really sure..?”, she asks, with an ear cocked and an eyebrow raised.

Oh come on, I don't look that impotent, do I? “... Let me try at least, that shouldn't be too difficult.”

Ambre does let me get on the stepstool, even if the metal groans a bit under my frame, and I succeed in holding the spatula between palm and finger well enough to stir the vegetables. Even if I'm still very awkward, I am getting better! “See? No problem at all.”

“All right,” she giggles, “but call if you need help!”

“Sure. Now go relax for a bit, you more than earned it.”

“Thanks Sarge!”, she calls as she darts away.

'Sarge' again..? Do I really sound so authoritarian? I can be blunt, sure, but I don't feel like I'm ordering anybody around... Well, not any more than I'd do with any other guests who don't know the ways of the house, at least.

Anyway... Food's cooking... It isn't burning yet... Water should soon be boiling... All good! Though this meal does look a little bland without at least a little serving of proteins...

Oh, but maybe I have something for remedying to that!

I get down from the stepstool and hobble back to the fridge. I'm sure I've seen... Ah yes! I still have this couple of fresh ground beef patties! I drag them closer, and check the expiration date on the packaging.

Tsss, that's me all right – whenever I buy fresh food instead of cans, I can't help but think I should keep it for a special occasion instead of using it right away. But of course, occasions that I judge 'special enough' are few and far between, and I often let the food go bad like an idiot...

I'm forced to – ugh..! – hold the cold packaging with my teeth to take it out of the fridge and put it on the counter. Crude, but effective at least. How to cook this, now? The two hotplates are occupied, and— Ah, water's boiling!

I get back on the stepstool to pour the pasta into the pot, and I stir the vegetables some more for good measure. With bread on the side and fruits for dessert, I think we should have quite enough for the four of us!

I watch patiently as most of our meal finishes cooking, stirring as need be...

Turns out to be pretty relaxing, actually. Keeps the bad feelings at bay for a little while...

... Hmm, I think these fusilli are about done.

“Séb!”, I call. “Could you help me please?”

I turn the hotplate off and stir the pasta a couple last times while waiting for my friend to join me.

“How may I serve?”, he asks as he enters.

I gesture toward the pot: “Could you help me drain this?”

“Of course!”

This is quickly dealt with, as expected – it helps to have hands and stand upright – and we transfer the pasta then the cooked vegetables into my largest salad bowl.

“Well, the three of you certainly did a good job! Should I get the tableware out?”

“Yes, please take the soup plates for us, it's easier to eat from. Oh, and I almost forgot, could you fry these patties real quick before that? I'm, uh, not sure I'm dexterous enough yet to flip them, or to open the plastic packaging...”

“You're sure..?”, he asks me with clear incertitude in his voice and– Uuuurgh! Not this look again!

“Yes I'm sure! They expired yesterday, it's now or never.”

“Okay, as you wish...”

And so he complies with my request, but he still looks decidedly unsure and hesitant for whatever reason. Soon enough the patties are on their way, after he turned the exhaust hood on. That wasn't a bad idea as it turns out – the cooking fumes do smell a bit stronger than usual. I really hope they're still good, now that they had the chance to whet my appetite...

Our patties are laid down on their own little plastic plate for now, as we only have so much space on a single tray to carry the tableware, the large salad bowl, and a couple short baguettes. Back to the living room, Ambre and Sarah have cleared the coffee table so we can directly put everything in place. The two of them are seated around the table, visibly eager to start loading their plate, but... How can they sit on their rumps like common dogs? That's just disgraceful. Granted, this is probably more comfortable than my crude attempt at sitting cross-legged, but still...

Séb joins us after a last trip to the kitchen for the patties. “Uh, sorry...”, he mutters as he puts the plastic plate next to me.

Sorry for what..? Whatever, I'm hungry!

Séb is kind enough to serve me some pasta, but what I've really set my sights on is the patties. It takes a little effort to cut one in half with the side of my fork, but it is worth it to be able to seize my prize and munch on the meaty goodness! And as I hoped, it's not bad at all! The taste is just more noticeable than usual I guess.

Mmh... Why does this give me this sense of déjà vu..?

Looking up from my plate, I see that Sarah stares at me with a very queasy expression, ears drawn back.

“... How can you eat that!?”, she squawks at me in apparent disbelief.

Uh..? Ambre does seem a bit squeamish too, while Séb looks kind of sorry for the whole thing. Did I do someth—

Oh.

Dammit, how could I forget that!? They couldn't stand the sausages the other day! Or even the tuna today! I'm such an idiot! Is this body making me dumber or what!?

Well... In for a cent, in for an euro, I guess... My omission is regrettable, but I'm not about to get shamed for this either:

“I'm sorry I forgot to warn you, but I've been eating meat my whole life, I'm not about to stop now. Don't worry, there isn't any in the pasta.”

I try to go back to eating quietly, but they're still staring like I'm committing some sort of crime! This is starting to get really irritating!

“Seriously, why the sudden aversion?”, I grumble. “And I'll not accept answers like 'pony, duh', I want to know what's happening in your heads! We're not beholden to our base instincts, and neither of you were vegetarians before all this, huh? Sarah?”

“It... It just feels wrong, somehow...”

Séb tries to intervene: “Well Laurence, from our earlier tests, it could be linked to changed taste buds, so it's not their fault...”

“Shouldn't mine have changed as well then? And you two, you know horses aren't obligate herbivores either, right? Most terrestrial ungulates consume meat when they can, for the protein boost.”

“Are you sure this is applicable to cartoon ponies..?”, Ambre questions with a frown.

“If you got hooves, then you're an ungulate, simple as that. Well, unless you're a dolphin I guess.”

“... What?”, mutters Sarah.

“Never mind. So am I to understand neither of you are interested? Even as a test?”, I ask, gesturing at the patty-and-a-half left on the plate.

Ambre gulps and averts her gaze: “I'll pass, thanks…”

Sarah's disgusted look is answer enough. I'm tempted to get some sweet delicious payback out of this... but it wasn't my plan to upset them in the first place, so I'll be the better woman this time, and not try to aggravate this already awkward situation for no good reason.

“Okay then, well, all the more for us Séb!”

I smile at him, in hope of finding some support, but he still looks sorry.

“What? Don't tell me you've suddenly gone vegan too?”

“Uh, honestly..? My best friend and her pals just got changed into sentient livestock, that kinda puts some things into perspective...”

...

“I see...”

I spill the remaining patties into my plate, uncross my legs, and take my meal in the crook of my arm.

“Sorry for ruining your dinner.”, I say, then turn back toward the kitchen, taking my time to not trip on the way. Let's not add slapstick-style humiliation to my tally...

The girls do not try to stop me, even if some hooves are shuffled, Ambre's by the sound of it.

Lucky me. At least I won't have to hide the tears this time.

I still smile a little though, when I hear Séb's steps behind me.

– — –

Well... This evening has been dreadful, to say the least.

Not that the day was that good to begin with, though, but—

“Ouch! Stop playing with that, Sainfoin!”

The cat doesn't comply though, and I'm forced to fold a little tighter the wings I've been burdened with, if I don't want to have their feathers pulled down by sharp claws, those things are sensitive. I grit my teeth, feeling the interplay of foreign muscles around the middle of my chest and back, but at least they obey more or less like I want them to. Not so surprising, considering these limbs have more in common with my human arms than my current ones do...

Sainfoin looks at me like I've just took away his favorite toy. I try to pet him in compensation, but he clearly doesn't appreciate that I'm still a little wet...

The shower was deeply uncomfortable at first, and dangerous at times with these stupid hooves, but after the utter fiasco of the past two hours, the simple pleasure of drenching myself in warm water was more than welcome. What definitely wasn't: soaked mane, tail, feathers, and coat... That's why I'm forced to sit on a towel, in the middle of my bedroom, to let myself dry... Tying my long hair to avoid this kind of problem had always been the go-to solution, but that wasn't really an option here.

Thinking about my hair, I cast a glance toward the nightstand. Inside, preserved in a plastic bag, rest the last locks of my real hair I managed to save. When this awful dark pink mane started overtaking my scalp, the transformed strands turned out significantly shorter than the natural ones, as if they were programmed to produce a very specific length rather than alter the existing hair shafts. What was left of the strands was just falling down, cut even more thoroughly than if it were done with scissors. So, when it looked like the change was speeding up... I tied my ponytail, and chopped it down. At least I could save some of the real me that way, even if, unbelievably, parts of my cut black hair still turned pink while in the plastic bag! I couldn't find a rational explanation for this at the time, but now... What couldn't be explained by just saying 'shut up, it's magic'..?

I'm pulled out of my pensiveness by Séb, already wearing his pajamas, who pushes back the door behind him.

“Hey.”

“Hey...”, I answer.

“Still dripping?”

“No, but not completely dry either...”

“That's what you get, refusing to use the blow dryer... I could have closed my eyes or something, you know?”

I just shrug. I've had enough pointless arguments for today...

“Ambre asked me to tell you she's sorry...”, he sighs while sitting on the edge of the bed.

I snort at that, with no small amount of bitterness: “What stopped her from telling me that to my face..?”

“The shame, maybe..? Not being sure how you'd take it..? You didn't even try to look at either of them all evening, that wasn't especially encouraging...”

And I was right not to! I am the one who's been unjustly ostracized here!! They looked at me like I was at fault for something that isn't wrong in the first place! I bite my lower lip, keeping back the angry snarl that would've came out otherwise, but I can feel the feathers on my back ruffling in response to my ire, just as my ears point backward.

My reaction spooks Sainfoin, who scurries away to the other side of the room, his own ears folded.

Can't blame anyone but myself for this one, at least...

...

Every time...

Every time, I fail the people around me... Why do I have to be such a horrible failure..? Maybe they are right to despise me... Maybe that's all I deserve, for being so brok—

My wings spring open as a hand lands palm down on the base of my neck. I feel the instinctual urge to bolt, but I know this hand can only belong to one specific person. One of the persons I trust the most on this planet. I do not protest or try to squirm away, as my best friend hugs me from behind, cradling my strange body against his chest.

“You'll get your shirt wet...”, I manage to whisper.

“I don't care.”

The storm that was brewing inside me abates slowly, as if it were weathering itself away against the rock holding me tightly... Those pesky blue feather dusters fold themselves over Séb's arms, almost like trying to return the hug, and for once, I let them do as they want.

We stay like this for some time, only interrupted when Sainfoin makes known his displeasure at not getting his share of affection. This prompt us to climb in bed at last, completely dry or not – even if I'm not particularly eager to spend another night trying vainly to sleep.

I've had frequent bouts of insomnia for years, but since I've got these ugly brands on my thighs the few hours of sleep I can manage are plagued by nightmares. Is it so surprising that my mood is so fickle, and that I find myself wallowing in doubts and self-hate so readily, considering that these phantasms consist almost exclusively in failing, despair, and complete revulsion at myself..?

Anyway... Let's try to focus on the here and now. Like last night we're laying face to face, Sainfoin finding his spot between us. The lights are off, but I can still see well enough to notice Séb watching me, even if I can't decipher the subtle emotions showing through his eyes.

You're so kind and brave, to stay with me instead of just running away from this insanity – from my insanity... I don't know yet if friendship is truly magic, but it sure is something powerful. I must find ways to honor this loyalty...

“Sorry for not being strong enough...”, I murmur almost more to myself than to him.

“It's okay...”, Séb answers softly. “Anybody would feel overwhelmed by what you're going through.”

“Tell that to Ambre and Sarah...”

“I'm not so sure it's all flowers and rainbows for them either, you know..? They seem to spend their time doing things to take their mind away from the present, like reading, or binge-watching a show. Maybe there's a reason.”

“When you say it like that... Maybe you're right...”

“You know I am.”, he chuckles, and it gets me to smile a little bit. “What's more, you've clearly made a lot of efforts today, that's still great.”

“Yeah... Would've been better if I didn't forget that eating meat has become anathema to all of you...”

“I... I understand how that could have slipped your min—”

“No, Séb. I'm not supposed to be that forgetful. Not when I had two earlier opportunities to observe this behavior in person...”

“It's only the stress, I'm sure. Don't worry too much about it, Laurence. Leave yourself some time to fully get back on your feet.”

“If you say so...”

“And like I said, you're not giving up either – you're adapting. That definitely counts for something.”

“It's just the pragmatic thing to do...”

“Being pragmatic's not always that easy. You should be proud of yourself.”

I'm afraid that is still a long way off...

But yes. I will find ways to adapt, if only to better find ways to get my real body back! I will not yield so early in this fight!

“Ah, now there's the kind of look I like to see on your face!”, comments my friend with a grin. “I'm sure you'll find even more ways to surprise me tomorrow, in the best way possible. I mean, even just today, you got how to walk efficiently, and you got so much better at using those hooves!”

I'm tempted to share his grin, reminded of these small successes...

“Oh, and I wasn't expecting you to get comfortable with Sarah going around naked so soon either!”

...

Dammit!!

Sarah's View

I galloped through the fancy hallways, but I'd never been in the castle before, and the thing was like a maze!

That place... This time I'm sure – this is supposed to be Canterlot.

There was a mighty ruckus comin' from somewhere, with the sound of metal scrappin' and loud voices – the guards must've been fightin' that monster.

That word... 'Monster'... Would it be the same one, too..?

That's the smell of fine food burnin' that got me on the right tracks. Followin' my nose, I got closer and closer to the source, and right there were the kitchens!

I don't remember having so good a look at this place last time... It's quite the mess: food left to burn, pastries ready to be served strewn all over like nopony cared, and not a sound... Really eerie. I walk towards one of the counters, or at least dream-me does, and there I'm not surprised to find the diamond-shaped beignets laid forgotten on the worktop, some only half-done...

Why would these things be so significant..?

... because they're hers...

Her... That mare...

“You shouldn't be here! What were you thinking!?”

Her big blue eyes, full of reproach and dread yet still so beautiful, complimenting so well her pale orange coat and her chocolate mane...

The dream doesn't leave me much more time for contemplation, we switch to running again, together this time, the mare holding tight on my back, until we reach safety...

“Hey, look at me, please look at me!”, I tell her. “It's gonna be alright, I promise! We'll get outta here before he catches us, we'll make it!”

But we can't stop yet, we need somewhere to run!

“This way, to the gardens!”

But I remember what is waiting for us there..!

The tall monster stood before me, with that evil, confident smile of his... Discord is coming for us!

No! I don't want to see what's next! Stop!!

“For Five Score! Divided by Four!”

All goes white, like the whole world is slipping away...

... And I wake up with a start.

...

Is this really going to be how I wake every darn morning!? 'Cause I don't think I could ever grow used to this awful feeling of... I'm not even sure how to describe it – like my very being was peeled away, layer by layer..?

Ugh... Just thinking about it, it sends shivers down my spine..!

Nightmares as long as we had the whole transformation thing going on, this I could get, but now that I've more or less grown used to my new skin? Am I actually, like, overdosing on that cartoon..? I'm surprised this was still the same exact scenario, though. I mean, I'm pretty far into season three, so if they have to go all My Little Pony I'd expect my nightmares to make use of the changelings, or even King Sombra. At least I'm starting to be semi-lucid during these dreams, even if I'm not sure I can control how they play out yet.

Oh, and when did I start finding pony mares so attractive in the first place? Maybe my new equipment really has an effect on me after all..?

Anyways... Now that my nerves had a chance to settle, what to do? It doesn't look like it's dawn yet, but I'm not sure I could go back to sleep that easily... Stretching neck and limbs, I can soon feel this exhilarating energy coursing through my veins, just begging to be used! Guy-thing or pony-thing, it feels so great to be so full of vitality!

The downside would be that, well... I'm so full of vitality, without any good way to let it out! I'm forced to stay between these four walls all day long, even if my body screams for some physical work! I may have found a way to deal with that, though I'll have to discuss it with the others. At least in the meantime watching ponies keeps my mind focused on something, even if I can't stop fidgeting now and then...

Can't really put the telly on for the moment however, with Ambre still sleeping on the other side of the coffee table... And come to think of it, after what happened last episode, I'm really not in the mood to risk seeing any more of Discord's ugly mug than absolutely necessary!

So what, then..?

I look around, ears turning this way and that, searching for any easy distraction...

Mmh, is this light I see coming from the corridor..? Let's find out!

Rolling off the couch, I do my very best to walk in silence despite my urge to run, one hoof at a time, through the living room then the corridor. My goal turns out to be behind the half-closed kitchen door, with a tired-looking Sébastien leaning against the counter while playing on his phone, a glass of steaming tea next to him.

“Hey man, you're up early today.”, I greet him.

“Oh, hi Sarah... Hope I didn't wake you up..?”, he mumbles.

“Nah don't worry. Rough night?”

“More or less...”, he sighs. “Laurence has trouble sleeping, and she has those nasty nightmares... Spent a good portion of the night trying to just... help her not freaking out too much.”

She has nightmares too? Considering the scare she pulled on us Sunday, and how she seems to deal with being a pony... Now that's something I'm quite ready to believe.

“She's sleeping, at last, but I'm wide awake...”, he concludes with a humorless chuckle. “Anyway, since I'm here, do you want anything for breakfast?”

The offer's tempting, but I've got something else in mind right now, and this is turning out to be the perfect opportunity:

“Say, I was thinking... When we got here Saturday night, I thought I saw some kind of park or field on the way, maybe two, three blocks from here, just after a bridge?”

“Hmm yes, you're correct.”, he confirms.

“So yesterday I did a little Google Earth search, and turns out the thing's pretty large, with the river on one side and only small two-stories houses on the other...”

“That's what you were doing on the computer..? You said you wanted to check your emails!”

“And I did, but I can multitask now, can't I? My point is, it's pretty secluded, so maybe we—”

“No no no no no, that's out of the question!”

“Oh come on, I'll grow mad if I have to stay cooped in here one more day! It's been almost four since I did my last morning jog! It'd be just for five minutes, tops! Can't you do a guy a favor?”

“A 'guy', huh..?”, he snickers.

Uh? I really said that..? Well I'll own up to it! “Yeah, so what? You realize I'm basically more masculine than you on any measure of the thing?”, I scoff in my deepest tone while striking a pose to show off my burly build.

He's certainly not impressed though: “If you say so, Sarah...”

I roll my eyes with a good-natured smile: “Yeah, yeah, laugh it up, walked right into that one... Anyways, that's not the subject!”

“Yes, and the subject was: no going out of the house!”

“But you'd be with me all the time, like some random dude walking his dog!”

“My big green horsey dog, right..?”

“It's not even day yet, I promise nobody'll be the wiser!”

Ah! I can see it in his eyes, he's considering it!

“Maaaaaaybe...”, he muses.

Hehe, victory is at hoof!!

“... But on one condition.”

Whatever dude, I'll take it!

– — –

“This is just degrading...”, I grumble, tugging at the makeshift leash secured around my neck. Why does Laurence have a secret stash of bungee cords anyway!?

“Hey, dogs don't talk last time I checked.”

I snort loudly, but refrain from voicing my next gripe... Hey, at least I'm finally getting some fresh air!

The sky may be overcast, and the humidity a little high, I don't care about either! Even the slight chill won't stop me!

We don't meet any humans on the way, fortunately. Only a couple cars pass us by, but without showing any sign of noticing anything amiss, with Sébastien partially shielding me from view, and soon we reach our goal.

Like I'd seen on the map, the park stretches away from the road along the river, with crude dirt paths snaking around the perimeter and some small trees and wooden benches dotting the place. All in all: it's perfect!

“Well then Fido,” Sébastien quips as he unties me, “knock yourself out!”

Won't have to tell me twice!

I launch myself along one of the paths, hooves battling against the wet dirt as I walk quicker and quicker. I can't help but laugh at how freakin' good it feels!!

But soon I almost trip over myself, like my legs can't keep up with the pace! Come on, I could go faster than that as a human, I'm sure I can do better now!

My gait shifts by itself, the usual pattern morphing into a two-beats rhythm, and that's exactly what I needed – legs on each side working together to propel my body to even greater speeds! This rhythm proves even more comfortable and efficient than the four-beats one, it's like I'm cruising over the ground with barely any effort!

In no time I complete my first circuit around the park, muscles pumping and a big grin on my face, but I need more! I can do more, I feel it in my bones! Come on Chard, faster!!

And faster I go, but I'm barely half-way through my second lap that I seem to reach a cap with the two beats too. I try to force my legs into a galloping pattern, but I stumble, and I'm forced to slow down a bit...

It shouldn't be that hard! I will get it!!

I push again for my muscles to work to their fullest, to bring me past my limits, but all the power I can muster doesn't change much, except straining my joints and getting myself even more frustrated..!

I decelerate to a more sedate pace, to let me catch my breath. I'm already starting on my third lap, I need to find something!

Maybe...

Maybe if I tried to do like in my dream..? Yes, I know I was galloping, it felt so natural and effortless then! Just like when I learned to walk thanks to the cartoon, this should work too!

I pick up speed once more, with new resolve. As I near the cap, this time I pull the memories of the dream to the forefront of my mind, imagining myself back in those Canterlot halls, looking for the mare I love!

I galloped through the fancy hallways...

Focus on the feel of your body moving, of how your hooves beat against the ground...

I galloped...

Let your instincts take over..!

I galloped..!

Gallop!

I feel myself soaring forward, my limbs flexing and extending like never before to strike against the soil relentlessly, each in rapid succession, sending dirt flying behind me as I dash along the path! I feel almost like I'm flying, the wind blowing through my mane! This is so awesome!!

That third lap is completed in no time at all and I start on the fourth – let's go for a little variety!

Straying from the path, I make my way at full throttle over the dewy grass, only slowing down enough to slalom around the trees without getting a faceful of hard bark! Seriously, I feel like I'm going even faster than in the dream!

This train of thought brings back the mental image of my dream-self, though...

“This way, to the gardens!”

Galloping through the elegant gardens of Canterlot castle, the beautiful mare at my si—

“For Five Score!”

What the—!

The vivid memory of Discord's voice makes me jump out of my skin and I lose my footing, careening wildly for a terrifying instant before I fall! My soccer reflexes kick in just in time for me to not break my neck, and I'm sent rolling onto the grass...

...

Oww...

Well, t'was good while it lasted, at least...

“Hey, you're okay?”, Sébastien asks as he jogs towards me.

“Yeah, yeah,” I grumble, pushing myself back on my hooves and shaking the wetness out of my coat, “my pride's more hurt than anything else...”

Doesn't mean I'm not aching all over, though... Tch, I just had to overdo it..!

“Well, I think you've had your fun for the morning, and you weren't exactly discreet, galloping like that..!”, Sébastien scolds me. “It's getting late too, so let's get home before more people get out on the streets, all right?”

I do not protest, even when he puts this stupid leash back on. But that's because I've got something on my mind more than anything else...

“Say...”, I begin as we leave the park, “You've seen the show. What do you think of Discord?”

Sébastien takes a moment to ponder my question: “He's... a controversial character in the fandom, to say the least. He started out as a really fun villain, and he had an interesting development later on, but the way the writers pushed things at the end...”

“Yeah..?”, I prompt.

“Well, you're still watching, do you really want spoilers..?"

I snort at that. “I don't care at this point, I just want to be sure it's not just me who find him so creepy!”

“Okay, but I warned you...”

Come on man, stop it already with the dramatic pauses..!

“At the end of the fifth and last season of MLP... Discord takes over Equestria.”

Ambre's View

A... m... b... e– wait, no! Not again!

Are ponies naturally dyslexic or what?

Well, the best cure is to keep on writing, so I go back to filling the sheet of paper with my name. Feels like I'm back in kindergarten...

In a way this feeling is pretty accurate: I'm working on mastering an essential, everyday skill. Or make that 'skills'; it's as much writing as magic practice.

Once I grew used to the basics of my magic field and got levitation more or less down pat, the next logical step was to get the hang on the different ways I could use it practically. Like how to perform complex actions, a bit like what I did with the keyboard yesterday. Clearly I still have issues with dividing my attention though... At least the 'horn motion' quickly becomes second nature, as it's just repeating the same pattern over and over. Once this part goes on automatic, it gets easier to visualize the object, to wrap the magic around it, and to keep the energy flowing.

Directing the shape and the intensity of the flow for fine object manipulation? That's another story altogether...

The more I practice the better I get, fortunately, even if writing still requires a lot of focus. At first I was tempted to do it the way I would hold the pen in my hand, but that meant recreating each individual finger, with each flow exerting its own pressure in its own direction, as well as performing the movements of the hand and the wrist at the same time... That was a tad daunting for a magic newbie, so I elected to go back to zero, by just holding the pen perpendicular to the paper. If I can keep my field firm enough to carry the pen aloft, while leaving it flexible enough to allow for slight tilt variations, the results are fairly decent!

Now if only I could manage to make writing like this natural enough to concentrate on what I'm actually trying to write..! It's a little discouraging when you keep making a mistake in your own name at least once out of three tries...

I crumple the scribbles-filled paper, which is also an interesting exercise. I need to hold the paper fully in my field, then induce variations of the flow in opposite directions and in different places with enough force to crush it on itself. Not that easy in practice either...

The next part never ceases to make me smile, though. Sainfoin is standing alert since he heard the paper crumpling. He knows what I'm about to do...

Levitating the paper ball, I force it into a quick, sharp loop to gain momentum then release it from my field, at the exact time and in the exact direction needed to let it flit through the air, juuust out of reach from the cat's paws, and to land perfectly into the little wastebasket beside the computer desk, almost on the other side of the room.

Compared to my other magical tests, my success rate at this one is tremendously more positive! In fact, once I found the right technique, I don't think I've missed even once! And that's with Sainfoin doing his best to intercept the ball each time! He's not deterred though, and waits for my next projectile, tail swaying excitedly.

*sigh*

I suppose we kinda need the distraction, considering the general mood of the house...

Laurence has been despondent for most of the day, though at least she doesn't avoid us like last night. She just spends her hours silently working on her computer, with pens I strapped to each of her forehooves to use the keyboard. With the lack of sleep compounding the ongoing situation, it could certainly be worse...

Sarah's behavior is actually more surprising, in a way. This morning she spent a little while bragging about going outside with Sébastien and running some laps, but after that her attitude soured. She was reluctant to keep on watching My Little Pony like she'd been doing until now, but didn't care to explain why. She's still watching the television, but she doesn't seem to be that much into the action series that is currently playing.

As I fish for another sheet of paper, she gets up from the couch, not bothering to put her show on pause, and plods towards either the kitchen or the bathroom. I take advantage of being alone with Laurence to try talking to her; I really didn't like how I acted toward her yesterday, and I want to be sure she knows she can rely on me for anything.

I join her at the computer: “Uh hey, Laurence, I...”

How should I phrase it..? I don't want her to misunderstand me! I had a clear plan in my head, why is it suddenly so hard to find my words!?

She doesn't look at me, but her ears point in my direction; quick, I must say something!

“Er, I... Can I help you with something..?”, I manage to get out.

That's not how I wanted to begin, but that's not so bad either, right..?

“No thank you. Just keep practicing your magic...”, she mumbles.

“Oh, er, okay...”, I stammer, taking a step back without even meaning to.

She must have noticed my unease as she turns her gaze towards me, a faint look of concern on her face behind the tiredness: “Hey, I... Don't take it personally, please. It's not against you.”

“I understand, don't worry...”, I answer with a little smile.

She nods, and goes back to her screen... But that's not what I wanted to say! Come on Ambre!

“And, er... I don't know if Sébastien told you, but...”

“You're sorry, yes... He told me.”, she replies softly, but without looking at me.

“Oh uh, okay then...” Er, well, mission accomplished, I suppose..?

I shuffle back to my writing implements, downcast. Why do I get flustered so easily, and so overtly..? I remember I could be somewhat shy in my youth, but I had to grow out of that! Am I so out of my element that I've lost all my hard-earned confidence..?

This would get annoying really fast.

Anyway, like Laurence said – back to practice...

Sarah rejoins us shortly after I've started on a new page though, somewhat thoughtful for a change:

“Hey girls, I gave this some thinking, and... I'm not sure 'Sarah' fits me so well anymore.”

Eh... I was wondering when this moment would come.

Laurence spins on her chair: “What!? But that's your name!”, she exclaims, staring at 'Sarah' with wide eyes.

“Yeah, but what's a name's worth if it doesn't fit?”

Laurence doesn't have a direct comeback to that, so I carry on: “Did you come up with something yet?”

“Well I was aiming for something a bit more... masculine...”

... And another point in favor of the 'transformation is tailored to the individual' hypothesis! “Something like 'Sam', maybe?”, I propose. “Same initials, though a little shorter.”

“Nah, I had a name in mind, but it's, like, blurry, vague. The closest I could come up with would be 'Chad'.”

“'Chad'..?”, echoes Laurence with a frown. “Sounds right out of some American sitcom... Of all the names in all the languages on this planet, I'm sure you can find something better, if you're so keen to forget yours...”

I chime in before the two can get into another pointless conflict: “Er, maybe something like 'Charles', then?”

No!”, they both call loudly!

“Er, okay, okay, 'Charles' is out...”, I mutter. Well at least this stopped the situation from degenerating... Wasn't what I had planned, but that works too I guess..?

“Anyways... I thought about pony names too, but I really don't want to call myself 'Beetroot something' or 'something Beetroot'.”

“'Chad' is certainly better than any variation on 'Beetroot'...”, Laurence snorts.

“Then 'Chad' it is for now!”, proclaims Chad with a satisfied smile. “So, next subject: what would you think of something a little different for dinner? I'm short some ingredients, but if Sébastien can get us some green olives and raisins on his way back I could fix us a vegetable tajine!”

“Sounds great!”

“No objections...”

“Okay, it needs to cook an hour at least so I'm gonna start on prepping the veggies! Ambre, I'll probably need you for setting up the pot and hotplate, I'll call!”

I nod, and he soon trots back toward the kitchen. He had a great idea, I haven't had a good tajine in years! In the meantime I should stop practicing, it would be best to preserve my magical reserve for what Chad will need me for. Sorry Sainfoin, no more playing!

“Well, I suppose this settles the question of his gender...”, I muse out loud as I stow paper and pen away in the computer desk's drawer.

“I wouldn't take everything she says on the subject at face value, considering how much this transformation is affecting your behavior...”, scoffs Laurence.

“I agree it usually takes a little more time to come to a real understanding of oneself, but for that, one needs to push beyond what one's used to, like trying out a new name for example... Oh and please, from now on he would probably want to be referred to as 'he' rather than 'she'.”, I correct her.

Hey, turns out I'm actually not so tongue-tied once an argument's started!

Laurence looks like she's about to contest my proposition, but I can see the gears turning behind her eyes as she must realize that I kinda have the advantage of personal experience on these matters...

“'He', if you want...”, she finally grumbles. “What difference does it make anyway? She's– sorry, he's not going to keep masculine pronouns once he changes back, so why bother?”

“What makes you so sure he'll want to change back..?”

I only realize the implications of what I just said when I find myself the target of Laurence's almost furious expression: “Are you insane!? Why would anybody not want to get back to their own body!?”

“I– er, I don't know!” I'm so very tempted to flee rather than confront her fierce indignation, but my hooves are like glued to the floor, my whole body gone rigid! I babble the first thing that comes to mind: “It's– maybe they don't think it's so bad?”

This immediately earns me the sternest of squints: “... Please don't tell me you're actually thinking that!? You would spend the rest of your life as a fucking talking horse!?”

“I... I don't know yet! There's pros and cons that I can't just dismiss out of hoof, like, er... Like magic..?”

“'Magic'..? What good is this damn 'magic' if it can't even help us undoing this!?”, she barks, pointing an accusing pen-tipped hoof at me.

“I– I don't know, sorry Sarge!”, I reply without thinking, cowering despite myself.

...

Wait. Why did she stop so suddenly..?

Raising my eyes back to brave her squint, I'm surprised to find her confused and a bit peeved rather than actually angry. Did I calm her down, somehow..?

“... Would you please stop with this 'sarge' business already..?”, she ultimately asks.

'Sarge'..?

What is she talking about?

“Yeah, that's at least the third time you've called her that.”, comes Chad's voice from the corridor, startling us both. He probably heard us from the kitchen, loud as we were...

And... Am I really doing that..? I would've noticed!

But if they both say that I do...

Chad joins us at the computer desk: “You mean 'Sarge' as in 'Sergeant', right?”, he suggests.

“Well, maybe, I guess..?” Seriously, I really don't think I know more about this than you do!

That's still confirmation enough for Laurence, though: “What would that even have to do with me!?”

“So now you're a pony soldier?”, Chad chuckles.

“What!? No! This is complete nonsense!!”

“Well Laurence, if you ever want to take a proper pony name, it sure beats 'Grumpy Pants'! Say Ambre, just 'Sarge' still sounds a bit short, what would be her full name?”

Her full name? This I know, she told me when we met at the party!

“It's Sergeant Rafale, of course!”

The words came out so earnestly, so innocently, almost like I was proud of myself.

By the time I realize what I've just said, my own jaw falls to the floor, mirroring Sarg— I mean Laurence's expression!

“... How would you know that!?”, she yells!

“I– I don't know!! I swear!” And it's true!!

“Then why the hell would you say THAT!?”

If only I knew!!

Chad, for his part, seems to find the whole situation pretty funny: “Wait, 'Rafale', like the fighter jet?”, he laughs.

“Shut up! That's not my name!!”, Laurence hollers at his smirking face.

This is getting out of control, I must do something!

“I'm sorry Sarge, I just—”

She swoops on me, squinting HARD! Drat, I did it again!

“I'm sorry Laurence, I didn't mean to!”

“Oh gosh that's just priceless!”, Chad keeps on guffawing, but Laurence still has her sights right on me:

“Why are you doing this to me!?”, she almost begs through her furor!

She grows so agitated that she falls from her chair! “It's not my name! It's not me!!”, she wails, hitting and cracking the floor tiles with her forehooves, shattering the pens along the way!

I should help her, one way or another! But how should I go about it!?

Unsure, I dare to take a step toward her, but she bolts back with hate and tears in her eyes, and she dashes for her room faster than I've ever seen her do since we got hooves, the door closing with a loud clap!

...

“Well... That happened.”, Chad comments after a moment.

“It's– it's not normal to react like this! We hurt her, we should do something!”

“Hey, let's lay things down,” he argues, “she's calling you 'Amber', English-style, almost as much as she uses your correct name, and yet you're not screaming bloody murder, do you..? Yeah it's not normal, but that's not your fault either – she's just high-strung like crazy.”

“But—”

“Just let her simmer down for a bit. She's being set off by anything pony-related, if you didn't notice, and that includes us. We'll wait for Sébastien to come back, and he will talk to her, okay?”

“... Okay...”, I agree, reluctantly.

“Come on then, we can't do anything right now.”, he says as he goes back toward the kitchen.

I start following him, but I can't hold back a lingering look at the bedroom's door. It... it feels wrong to leave to their own devices somepony who's hurting, especially if it's because of me! She could be...

She could do something bad...

I walk slowly to the closed door, and put an ear against it. I don't hear much, apart from sobs. That's... not as bad as it could be, I suppose...

Should I knock..?

What if she yells at me again, or hits me?

Maybe Chad is right, but...

...

*sigh*

I made things even worse...

And here I thought, that she could rely on me.

What a joke... I should just shut my mouth, at least I won't bother anypony this way...

Chad's View

I galloped through the fancy hallways, but I'd never been in the castle before, and the thing was like a maze! There was a mighty ruckus comin' from somewhere, with the sound of metal scrappin' and loud voices – the guards must've been fightin' that monster. I hoped they could keep it away 'til I found those darn kitchens!

Here we go again...

The dream is so vivid, even if by now I know dream-me's quest is doomed to fail, I can't help but feel myself carried along...

The place was a real mess. Pastries ready to be served strewn all over like nopony cared, cooking pots still on the stove, a large kitchen like that without the sounds of pans and knifes, or the cooks' banter... T'was eerie like nothin' else...

Dream-me's thoughts still sound like gibberish, regardless of how easily I understand what he means, but I think I'm catching more and more words... Maybe it is English after all, just bizarrely accented..?

Why would I dream in English..? I never went much further than 'Brian is in the kitchen' at school...

Lookin' around, I found some of Crispy's very own special fritters, the same as her cutie mark, ready to be fried. So she was here! But... The diamond-shaped beignets laid forgotten on the worktop, some only half-done...

That word... 'Crispy'...

Is it a name..? Is that English for something..?

The dream flows to the next scene – her scene...

I went for a hug, but she pushed me away, like she was angry at me!

“You shouldn't be here! What were you thinking!?”

“I heard there was somethin' bad happening in the castle, I had to see if you were alright!”

The rest is so hazy...

Except for him..!

T'was all a blur – next thing I knew, I'd busted through the door and was on the other side of the kitchen, Crispy clingin' to my back, yells and cries and the monster's laugh behind us! I couldn't save them all, but I could still save Crispy!

Back to galloping, and galloping...

I didn't stop 'til we were far enough I couldn't hear them anymore, but by then I was completely lost... I crouched to let Crispy down, she was still all shaken up!

“Hey, look at me, please look at me!”, I was telling her, 'til she caught her breath and met my eyes. “It's gonna be alright, I promise! We'll get outta here before he catches us, we'll make it!”

I don't need the exact words to realize this is a promise that wouldn't be kept...

... But soon, too soon, Discord's laugh echoed again, this time from the very direction we were galloping toward!

“This way, to the gardens!”, Crispy said as she pulled me 'nother way. We came out of the castle into the gardens, just like she said, and hurried along the dirt paths. We turned a corner, close to the outer walls...

No... It's useless... I don't want to see what happens next..!

This... This beast shoulda been behind us!!

W– Whatever! I would never let him have her!! I planted my hooves firmly on the ground, right between Crispy and him. The tall monster stood before me, with that evil, confident smile of his...

No!! Wake up! Wake up!

“For Five Sc—

I wake suddenly, gasping for breath!

Urgh... So either on the show or in my sleep, I can't escape this evil freak..!

At least I managed to avoid most of that awful feeling at the very end...

And...

Her name is supposed to be 'Crispy', then..? As pony names go, I guess my dreams could have picked worse... I'll have to see if it really means something in English.

Anyway... Like yesterday, for some reason I rise even earlier than the sun, though I don't think Sébastien will join me this morning... We could hear Laurence's cries almost all night long, even though he stayed with her, trying to help, and they both skipped dinner. Maybe, like Ambre said, we should've tried something. I wouldn't have known the first thing to tell her... Not that it matters much now.

So what to do? I've had enough of nightmare time, the house is still asleep, my phone is still charging up at the computer desk... What I really want is to go to my usual morning job, to experience again the exhilaration of exerting my body, but...

Why 'but', actually? It went well yesterday, except for my blunder at the end, and that had nothing to do with the fact of going out itself. I know the way, it's still dark outside... There's no reason not to! Ah, and no leash this time!

My mind made up, I slither away from the couch and to the front door. My lips would be nimble enough to hold the key, but I need a little teeth to turn it properly. My ears swivel back on their own at the noisy lock opening, but after an instant to check if I woke up anybody who would try to ruin my fun, I allow myself a smile as I pull the door open. Good thing it's not one of those that lock yourself out when you close them, that would be embarrassing...

The weather turns out to be no better than yesterday, and it must've rained recently, what with all the little puddles everywhere. Apart from muddy hooves on the way back, I think this is pretty much in my favor: it's dark, cloudy, and there's no-one around! I venture forth slowly at first, ears alert, but as I get closer to my destination I allow myself to relax a little; still not a human in sight, and the only sounds are my own hooves on the sidewalk and some birds chirping.

I soon arrive at the park and I don't waste any more time, going at a swift trot to warm myself up then transitioning to a healthy gallop! The dirt paths are just a little damp, not enough to be real mud, and I can just let my body go on auto-pilot and let my mind clear...

Maybe it's a bit like I'm running from my worries, in a way... But eh, you get by as best you can.

I savor the time passed working my muscles, getting the adrenaline pumping and inhaling the crisp fresh air, but as the sun starts to rise I've barely broken a sweat... I would stay longer, be it wouldn't be prudent now, would it..? Oh come on, I'm sure I've time for one or two more laps!

Of course, I'm fast enough this doesn't take me much more than half a minute per lap, a full one at most, so I feel like I'm still well in the clear here. Back on the sidewalk toward Laurence's house, it's a little frustrating to force myself to walk so slowly, but I don't think it's a good idea to gallop on hard pavement. My large hooves are already noisy enou—

Wait.

What was that?

I'm sure I heard something...

Birds take flight from somewhere behind me. Looking back, I see them flitting away from the general direction of the park, still less than two hundred meters from my current position.

Mmh.

Wouldn't hurt to avoid the main road for a little bit. I push until I clear the current block, then swerve left into a side street. If I remember well, there should be a little alley further down to the right, between two houses, and I could reach Laurence's from the other side.

I tread carefully through the street, my ears twitching in all directions. Gosh this is making me nervous... For all I know it was just some stray cat that scared the birds away!

Almost to the alley...

I freeze when I hear the distinctive sound of someone stepping into puddles of water.

It came from behind.

And it's more than one person.

Buck the noise, I dash forward and get into the narrow alley!

I immediately feel a little safer, hidden from view between the houses, but I don't want to waste any more time. If I keep on walking I should reach another side street, and then...

Gosh why do my hooves have to be so darn loud!?

Come on, it's gonna be alright, they're just some random passersby walking their dogs or something... Just get clear of the alley, then turn lef—

What the buck!? Why's this car stoppin' here!? I can't get out like... this...

BUCK!! They're cutting me off!!

Quick, the other way!! I'm almost back to the street already; If I take a right I should loop back towards the park, and then—

What the–!!

My legs tangle into something and I crash on the ground! Is that– is that a net!?

No!! You won't get me!! I try to get back on my hooves, but I feel hands trying to hold me down, they're tying me up!!

In your dreams, bastards!! I try to kick them away, but they get my hooves, I can't move! I snap my teeth around, and I manage to connect with something soft, biting with all my strength! Ah, I hope it hurts!!

Oww!! You can strike me all you want, I can keep this up all day!! You won't get me!! You wo—